Zanoni contemplated her thus, as her graceful head, shadowed by its redundant tresses, bent before him; and after a moment’s pause he drew near to her, and said, in a voice of the most soothing sweetness, and with a half smile upon his lip,—
“Do you remember, when I told you to struggle for the light, that I pointed for example to the resolute and earnest tree? I did not tell you, fair child, to take example by the moth, that would soar to the star, but falls scorched beside the lamp. Come, I will talk to thee. This Englishman—”
Viola drew herself away, and wept yet more passionately.
“This Englishman is of thine own years, not far above thine own rank. Thou mayst share his thoughts in life,—thou mayst sleep beside him in the same grave in death! And I—but that view of the future should concern us not. Look into thy heart, and thou wilt see that till again my shadow crossed thy path, there had grown up for this thine equal a pure and calm affection that would have ripened into love. Hast thou never pictured to thyself a home in which thy partner was thy young wooer?”
“Never!” said Viola, with sudden energy,—“never but to feel that such was not the fate ordained me. And, oh!” she continued, rising suddenly, and, putting aside the tresses that veiled her face, she fixed her eyes upon the questioner,—“and, oh! whoever thou art that thus wouldst read my soul and shape my future, do not mistake the sentiment that, that—” she faltered an instant, and went on with downcast eyes,—“that has fascinated my thoughts to thee. Do not think that I could nourish a love unsought and unreturned. It is not love that I feel for thee, stranger. Why should I? Thou hast never spoken to me but to admonish,—and now, to wound!” Again she paused, again her voice faltered; the tears trembled on her eyelids; she brushed them away and resumed. “No, not love,—if that be love which I have heard and read of, and sought to simulate on the stage,—but a more solemn, fearful, and, it seems to me, almost preternatural attraction, which makes me associate thee, waking or dreaming, with images that at once charm and awe. Thinkest thou, if it were love, that I could speak to thee thus; that,” she raised her looks suddenly to his, “mine eyes could thus search and confront thine own? Stranger, I ask but at times to see, to hear thee! Stranger, talk not to me of others. Forewarn, rebuke, bruise my heart, reject the not unworthy gratitude it offers thee, if thou wilt, but come not always to me as an omen of grief and trouble. Sometimes have I seen thee in my dreams surrounded by shapes of glory and light; thy looks radiant with a celestial joy which they wear not now. Stranger, thou hast saved me, and I thank and bless thee! Is that also a homage thou wouldst reject?” With these words, she crossed her arms meekly on her bosom, and inclined lowlily before him. Nor did her humility seem unwomanly or abject, nor that of mistress to lover, of slave to master, but rather of a child to its guardian, of a neophyte of the old religion to her priest. Zanoni’s brow was melancholy and thoughtful. He looked at her with a strange expression of kindness, of sorrow, yet of tender affection, in his eyes; but his lips were stern, and his voice cold, as he replied,—